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Full text of "The constitutional crisis."

"The Constitutional 
Crisis" 



"Never in the history of Parliamentary Government as we have it 
to-day, has any Prime Minister ever demeaned himself to even ask for 
dissolution while a vote of censure on his own Government was in 
debate." 

The constitutional crisis which Mr. King is stressing so strongly is but a 
smoke screen to hide from the electorate the damaging exposure of the admin- 
istration of the Customs and Excise Department. The real issue in this 
election was made by Parliament when Premier King was forced to resign to 
avoid the vote of censure on the administration of the Customs Department. 
There is really no constitutional issue. Premier King prates of responsible 
government, and claims to be the apostle and guardian of it. In seeking 
dissolution while a vote of censure was pending on his Government awaiting 
the decision of Parliament, he struck the hardest blow at responsible govern- 
ment ever attempted by a Canadian statesman. The only real constitu- 
tional crisis was when Mr. King sought to abrogate responsible govern- 
ment by securing a dissolution to evade the decision of a Parliament 
elected but seven months. 

To understand the situation which lead to Premier King's resignation, the 
calling of Mr. Meighen to office and the subsequent dissolution of Parliament, 
one must take into consideration the real issue at the last election. 

Mr. King asked His Excellency for a dissolution in September, 1925, on 
the ground that he must have a clear working majority to successfully ad- 
minister affairs. In his Richmond Hill speech to the electors earlier in the 
campaign, he took the same ground, that he was seeking a majority, and if 
such a majority was not forthcoming he would not attempt to carry on the 
affairs of the country. When the Government dissolved, there were 234 
members in the House, of which 117 were Liberals, 51 Conservatives and 66 
Progressives and Independents. The membership of the House of Commons 
had been increased from 234 to 245, and the election resulted in the return of 

116 Conservatives, 101 Liberals, 24 Progressives, 2 Labour and 2 Independents. 
Instead of receiving a clear majority, Mr. King's following was decreased from 

117 to 101, and the whole Conservative membership increased from 51 to 116. 
It was expected that Mr. King would immediately resign, and he was so 
advised by several members of his Cabinet, and by several of the leading 
Liberal newspapers. He refused to do so, and His Excellency took the posi- 
tion, until it was determined in Parliament who had a majority, that no public 
business of major importance should be transacted. 

Parliament was summoned for the definite purpose of ascertaining who 
had control. That should have been the only issue placed before Parliament 
in the Speech from the Throne. It was on that condition that Mr. King was 



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allowed to retain office until Parliament met, but he violated his pledge to His 
Excellency and caused His Excellency to read a measure to the House of 
Commons containing deliberate bribes for the support of the Progressive and 
Independent members. He had consummated a deal with the Progressives, 
and the condition of that deal was that there should be placed in the Speech 
from the Throne the terms of that deal, which was done. 

From the opening of Parliament until the resignation of Mr. King, the 
Government pursued a policy of bargain and barter. 

In the meantime the Stevens inquiry into the Customs Department was 
under way. Day after day the most damaging evidence against the Govern- 
ment itself, its Ministers, its members, its officials, was being brought out. 
A unanimous report from the Customs Committee was placed before Parlia- 
ment. To this was moved an amendment by Mr. Stevens, strongly con- 
demning the Government and its administration. The Government was 
panic-stricken, and its allies, the Progressives and Independents, were equally 
so. Various amendments were moved by Government supporters in an 
attempt to avoid a direct vote of censure. On Friday, June 25th, on three 
distinct votes the Government was defeated. Between Friday and Monday, 
so alarmed became the Government that Premier King called on His Excel- 
lency on Monday morning and asked that a dissolution be given, and this 
with a vote of censure pending in the House. His Excellency, under the 
circumstances, refused a dissolution, and justifiably so, because as Mr. Meighen 
stated in his Ottawa speech: "It can be definitely said that never within 
a century, never in the history of Parliamentary Government, as we 
have it to-day, has any Prime Minister ever demeaned himself to even 
ask for dissolution while a vote of censure on his own Government was 
in debate." 

Failing to secure a dissolution, Mr. King sought another method of evad- 
ing the vote of censure, and tendered his resignation to His Excellency, which 
was accepted. Mr. King met Parliament on Monday afternoon and made a 
statement to the effect that he had asked for dissolution, which was refused, 
and had tendered his resignation, which had been accepted, and moved that 
the House adjourn. Mr. Meighen immediately asked that under the 
circumstances there should be a conference between himself and the 
then Prime Minister. Mr. King refused such a conference, creating 
another precedent, as this is the first time in British history that such 
a request has been refused. His proper course was to have carried on 
until his successor was ready to announce his Ministry. This was the 
course pursued by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1873, and the proper course for a 
British statesman. Mr. King preferred throwing affairs into chaos. Mr. 
Meighen again urged that for the completion of the sessional work such a 
conference was necessary, but Mr. King refused to consider such a proposal. 

On Monday afternoon His Excellency called upon Mr. Meighen to form 
a Government. The problem of saving the sessional programme was the chief 
consideration. Under ordinary circumstances, to form a Government, Mr. 
Meighen would have to select the members of his Cabinet, have them resign 
their seats in Parliament, be re-elected, and then proceed with the Government 
business. This' would have taken at least not less than two and a half months. 
Mr. Meighen, under the unparalleled circumstances, could only appoint acting 



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Ministers and proceed to carry on the Government to secure supply and save 
the sessional programme. This was done. Mr. Meighen, himself as Prime 
Minister, could not sit in Parliament until re-elected. Previous to taking this 
course, the Progressive Party had placed in the hands of His Excellency a 
memorandum pledging themselves to assist Mr. Meighen in completing the 
work of the session. This should not have taken more than three days at the 
most. 

Before Parliament was the report of the Customs Committee, the Stevens 
amendment and the various amendments to it. These carried with them a 
vote of censure by Parliament on the late Government. It was adopted by 
Parliament; then Mr. King raised what he called the constitutional issue: 
that the acting Ministers, who were to complete the sessional programme with 
Mr. Meighen, had not taken the proper oaths of office, and were not legally 
qualified to conduct the affairs of the country, but had forfeited their seats in 
Parliament. This was adopted on a technicality by a majority of one, obtained 
by one of the Progressives breaking his pair, and the Meighen Government 
could no longer function. This resolution was adopted by the Liberal and 
Progressive members in the face of official memoranda from E. J. Lamaire, the 
Clerk of the Privy Council, and W. Stewart Edwards, Deputy Minister of 
Justice, that the Ministers had taken all the requisite oaths of office, that they 
were duly and legally qualified to sit in Parliament and conduct the affairs of 
the country. ^ 

The Progressive Party had destroyed Parliament by supporting Mr. King 
on this question. Mr. Meighen had no recourse but to ask His Excellency for 
a dissolution. This His Excellency granted; he could not do otherwise. He 
could not call on Mr. King to return to office, because a vote of censure 
had been adopted by Parliament on the King Administration. Parlia- 
ment had made it impossible for His Excellency to take any other 
course than the one he did. In granting Mr. Meighen a dissolution, His 
Excellency carried out the first principle of responsible Parliamentary Govern- 
ment. If he had done otherwise, he would have been acting contrary to the 
fundamental principles of responsible Parliamentary Government. 

In criticizing His Excellency for refusing a dissolution to him and granting 
one to Mr. Meighen, Mr. King does not take into consideration: — 

(1.) That he appealed to the electorate in 1925 to obtain a clear majority 
and failed. 

(2.) That Mr. Meighen had by far the largest group in Parliament, 
almost half the total membership. 

-(3.) Mr. King had assured His Excellency that he would leave the 
decision of control of Parliament to Parliament. 

(4.) On Friday, June 25th, Mr. King's Government was defeated on 
three distinct votes. 

(5.) When Mr. King asked His Excellency for a dissolution, there was 
awaiting decision in Parliament a vote of censure on the Government. 

(6.) To have granted Mr. King a dissolution under such circumstances 
would have been a direct infringement of the prerogative of Parliament. 

(7.) Following his resignation, Parliament by a majority of 10 adopted 
a direct vote of censure on the King Government, practically declaring it 
unworthy of confidence or office. 



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(8.) It was Mr. King's refusal to follow the precedent of British and 
Canadian statesmen in co-operating with the incoming administration to pass 
supplies and complete sessional programme that forced Mr. Meighen to dis- 
solve Parliament. 

(9.) If His Excellency had called on Mr. King to again assume office he 
would have been doing this in face of the direct vote of censure of Parliament 
on Mr. King's party. 

(10.) Mr. King had secured his dissolution in 1925 for the distinct pur- 
pose of securing a clear majority and failed. Mr. King could not constitu- 
tionally ask His Excellency for another dissolution for the same purpose. 

(11.) Mr. Meighen had not had a dissolution of Parliament, and was 
therefore entitled to one. 

The real facts of the constitutional question are, that Mr. King's party 
wanted to control the election machinery, which had been used by them in 
such an illegal manner, and for such corrupt purposes as was seen in the Peace 
River election. 

Irt the Province of Quebec the election machinery was so used by the 
Liberal Party in the last election to disfranchise at least 50,000 Conservative 
voters and place on the lists an equal number of bogus names to be voted by 
the Liberal machine. It was the loss of this corrupt weapon, not the constitu- 
tional crisis, that alarmed Mr. King and his supporters. 

Only one authority of any prominence has supported Mr. King in his 
contention that His Excellency acted unconstitutionally. This is Mr. Berri- 
dale Keith, a British constitutional authority. He condemned His Excellency's 
course without any knowledge of the circumstances leading up to such action. 
If he had had this knowledge, there is no doubt he would not have taken the 
position he did. But even this authority has given a decision on a similar 
point ^exactly opposite, so that Mr. King's one sole authority answers himself. 

Other prominent constitutional authorities in Great Britain have com- 
pletely justified Lord Byng's action. The Manchester Guardian, the organ of 
English Liberalism, is in complete accord with Lord Byng. The Toronto 
Globe, the great organ of Canadian Liberalism, has taken a similar position. 
In the July 14th number of the New Outlook, the organ of the United Church 
of Canada, there is an article on the constitutional crisis, completely refuting 
Premier King's contention and justifying the position taken by His Excellency. 

The Honourable E. L. Patenaude, Minister of Justice, on the constitu- 
tional issue, speaking at Ottawa, said: "Stripped of all complications, the 
alleged constitutional issue takes this shape: Mr. King in the face of defeat 
and censure, certain to result, as they subsequently did, from the shocking 
details of the Customs and Excise Committee report, having asked the Gover- 
nor-General to dissolve Parliament before that body could pronounce upon the 
guilt or innocence of the Government, the Governor-General pointed out to 
Mr. King that to grant dissolution under the circumstances would be unpre- 
cedented and indefensible, whereupon Mr. King resigned. Now, where is the 
constitutional issue? Surely, the action of the Governor-General was right. 
How could any other action upon his part have been defended? How could 
he have justified the gross affront to Parliament of which he would have been 
guilty had he granted Mr. King's request? Parliament, let it not be forgotten, 
is a superior body to the Government, which, after all, is only a committee of 



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Parliament. No other Prime Minister in all the long history of British or 
Colonial Parliaments had ever proposed to Sovereign or Governor that a dis- 
solution be granted in the face of impending censure in Parliament. When, 
in 1873, Sir John Macdonald was faced with a vote of censure, he resigned. 
He did not advise dissolution. Lord Dufferin, who was Governor-General at 
the time, wrote subsequently to the Colonial Secretary that if Sir John had 
not resigned, and if censure had carried, he would have dismissed Sir John 
Macdonald's Government. I wonder if any of the constitutionalists of our 
day are prepared to contend that if in 1873, Sir John Macdonald, faced with 
censure as he was, had advised dissolution to escape censure, he would have 
been entitled to it, and that if Lord Dufferin had then refused dissolution there 
would have been a 'constitutional issue', fathered by the Liberal Party." 

Lord Asquith, the great Liberal Prime Minister of England in 1922, said 
that he considered any attack made upon the right of the Sovereign to refuse 
a dissolution was an attack made upon the liberties of the people. In refusing 
Premier King a dissolution, Lord Byng carefully guarded the rights of Parlia- 
ment when Mr. King would have deliberately prevented Parliament from 
passing on the conduct of his administration. 

There is no constitutional issue. It is but a silly subterfuge of the Liberal 
leaders to escape the Customs scandals. Nor could Mr. Meighen do anything 
else after the vote in the House, that) his Ministers were not entitled to sit in 
Parliament, than demand and give effect to immediate dissolution. Parlia- 
ment had practically refused supply, and he followed the same course as that 
adopted by Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1911, who, when he saw that it was impos- 
sible to carry on, abruptly dissolved Parliament. 

Some Opinions on the 4 4 Constitutional Crisis" 

NO MENACE TO SELF-GOVERNMENT 

The Toronto Globe, the leading Canadian Liberal newspaper, is not in 
sympathy with criticisms of the Governor-General's course in regard to the 
dissolution of Parliament. The Globe says: — 

"The conditions which confronted His Excellency were without pre- 
cedent. It may reasonably be assumed that in declining to grant a 
dissolution until it became evident that neither party leader could com- 
mand the confidence of Parliament, he was actuated by an earnest desire 
to prevent jettisoning the whole achievement of the session to date, to 
save for the public much important legislation which has now died in its 
tracks, to secure the passing of necessary supply, and to avoid the turmoil, 
the expense and the dislocation of business and industry involved in a 
general election. In any event, there can be no doubt that he acted, 
free from all political concern or bias, in what he believed to be 
the best interest of the country. 

"Is there anything to be gained, under these circumstances, by mak- 
ing the Governor-General an issue in a political campaign — by staging, in 
the halls and on the hustings all over the land, heated partisan contro- 
versies between self-styled crusaders for the constitution and self-appointed 
defenders of the Crown? There is much to be lost. This sort of thing 
can create only dissatisfaction and disturbance, and provide fuel for those 



5 



agitators and disloyalists who are constantly plotting national or Imperial 
arson. If His Excellency erred, his error was technical in character. 
It is ridiculous to assume that he sought in any way to establish 
gubernatorial autocracy, or to menace self-government. A digni- 
fied protest would have protected the principle at stake. No right was 
denied the people. Within four days the dissolution asked for by Mr. 
King was granted to Mr. Meighen. The electors themselves are to deter- 
mine who shall carry on the Government of the country." 

ACCORDING TO ESTABLISHED USAGE 

In an article in the New Outlook (United Church), July 14th, Mr. King's 
constitutional crisis is dealt with as follows: — 

"Neither the Governor- General nor the incoming Prime Minister 
deviated by a hail's breadth from the established constitutional usage. 
The political wisdom and expediency of trusting to such assurances con- 
cern politics, not the constitution. The new Government met the House 
and on presenting for final action the pending vote of censure against their 
predecessors, were sustained by a majority such as their predecessors 
would at any time have found matter for great joy. The policy of the 
new Government was then formally challenged in vain, and on that issue 
the new Ministers were well sustained. But on a point of law, highly 
disputable and sharply contended, they were technically defeated by a 
majority of one — that one vote being admittedly cast in forgetfulness of 
an obligation to refrain from voting unless the one with whom he was 
paired returned to the House. There was nothing to show that on the 
ground of its policy the Government could not carry on, but there was 
enough to show that the King's Government could not be carried on with 
dignity in such a chamber so constituted. Here was a Prime Minister 
accorded support by the very House which had formally condemned the 
previous Government, and he now asked for a dissolution and was granted 
it in the interests, not of his party, but of carrying on the King's Govern- 
ment. Granting the dissolution to one Minister and with one kind of 
status was in no way inconsistent with refusing it to another, with different 
relation to the House. Nor is there anything inconsistent between refus- 
ing to a Prime Minister a second appeal to the electors from the House 
which they gave him on a first appeal, and the granting to a new Prime 
Minister whose general policy had been sustained by the House a first 
appeal to the electorate." 



Peace River Election 

In the Peace River Constituency in the 1925 election there were three 
candidates — D. M. Kennedy, Progressive; W. A. Ray, Liberal, and James A. 
Collins, Conservative. The returning officer on October 26th, 1925, declared 
D. M. Kennedy elected. Following this declaration a re-count was asked by 
Mr. Collins, and Judge Mahaffy at the conclusion of the re-count certified that 



6 



3986 votes had been cast in favor of D. M. Kennedy, 3969 votes in favour of 
James A. Collins, and 3944 in favour of W. A. Ray, thus Kennedy was elected 
by a majority of seventeen over Collins. In the re-count of Judge Mahaffy 
at the Brule Mines Poll No. 4, it was found twelve votes were cast in favour 
of D. M. Kennedy, 127 votes in favour of W. A. Ray and 21 votes in favour 
of J. A. Collins. The returning officer at this poll was one Peter A. Robb, 
commonly known as "Baldy" Robb, who was a well-known Liberal heeler. 
Collins had Robb arrested and brought into Court for fraudulently destroying 
a number of ballot papers used by the voters at this poll, and also for fraudu- 
lently putting into the ballot boxes papers other than the ballot papers author- 
ized by law. 

The trial of Robb took place on Monday, March 29th, 1926, at Edmon- 
ton, before Mr. Justice Walsh of the Supreme Court of Alberta and a jury. 
At this trial, 111 electors of the Brule Mines poll, where Collins was only 
credited with 21 votes, swore that they had voted for Collins. If the other 
ninety votes, which were ballotted for Collins, had been properly credited to 
him, he would have had a majority over Kennedy of 73. At the trial of Robb, 
in his address to the jury, Mr. Justice Walsh said: "If the evidence of the 111 
people, who have sworn in this Court this week that they voted at this Brule 
poll in the October election for Collins, is true, it reveals a very serious condi- 
tion. If it is true, it means that 90 of the electors at that polling sub-division 
had their franchise stolen from them. If it is true, it means that Collins, the 
man for whom those votes are said to have been cast, has had his seat in 
Parliament stolen from him. If it is true, it means the electoral division of 
Peace River has had its right to be represented by the man of their choice as 
signified by the people at the polls, stolen from them." 

The jury found Robb guilty. 

Mr. Justice Walsh sentenced Robb to five years' imprisonment with hard 
labour, and in sentencing him said, "The verdict that the jury has rendered 
against you in my opinion is entirely justified by the evidence. I have not 
the slightest doubt in my own mind after a careful following of the evidence 
that you planned and executed this gigantic fraud." 

Collins, then, according to one of the leading Judges of Alberta and a 
jury, had his constituency stolen from him. He had no redress, as the Liberals 
in the meantime had entered a petition against the return of Kennedy, and 
thus prevented Collins from taking action through the Courts. There is no 
doubt that this petition was entered by an arrangement between the Progres- 
sives and the Liberals to hold this seat and to prevent Collins from obtaining 
justice in the Courts. Collins then petitioned Parliament to take action to 
give justice to himself and to the constituency of Peace River. The Honour- 
able R. B. Bennett presented this petition and it was ruled out of order by the 
Speaker, and the Speaker's ruling was sustained by the combined vote of the 
Liberals and the Progressives in the face of the decision of a judge and jury in 
Alberta that the seat had been stolen from Collins. 

In the meantime, D. M. Kennedy, the Progressive Member, who was 
sitting in Parliament by the grace of "Baldy" Robb, had been appointed on 
the Customs Investigation Committee, the man to whom he owed his election 
was in jail while he was placed on a committee to investigate the scandals of 



7 



administration. If justice had been done, and Collins had been given the seat 
which he justly won, which was decided by a judge and jury, the King govern- 
ment would have been defeated early in the session, .as it was the vote of D. M. 
Kennedy which saved the King government on at least one occasion. Ken- 
nedy made the statement in the House in which he sat, that owing to the 
election petition having been filed against him, he could not resign his seat. 
This was true, but he could have refused to exercise the functions of a Member , 
of Parliament, knowing that he was not entitled to do so. In this statement 
he practically defied public opinion, when he said, referring to the election peti- 
tion filed by the Liberals against him, which they never intended to press: 

"Until this petition is disposed of, I intend to assume all the responsibilities 
and exercise the privileges of a Member of the House of Commons. I do not 
wish, however, to take shelter behind the petition or the Law. I would refuse 
to resign even if there were no petition." 

We have, therefore, the statement that in the face of the evidence before 
the Courts that he was not entitled to function as a Member of Parliament 
that he intended to do so, and did do so. 

On June 16th, Mr. Meighen moved that notwithstanding the report of 
the Clerk of Petitions against receiving the petition of J. A. Collins, that it be 
now read and received. Mr. Mackenzie King attempted to have this ruled 
out of order, but the Speaker decided otherwise. When Mr. Meighen's moti n 
was voted on, Liberals and all Progressives except Messrs. Boutillier, Lucas and 
Fansher, voted against giving Collins an opportunity to have Parliament do 
justice, which had been admitted to, but which the Courts were unable to 
give him. In this case, the Progressive Party discarded their claims to superior 
political morality and deliberately voted to have one of their number, D. M. 
Kennedy, retain his seat in Parliament, which he owed directly to the corrupt 
practices of a returning officer, now serving a five-year term in the Prince 
Albert Penitentiary. 

When the Conservatives took office in July, it was discovered in the Justice 
Department that there was a petition signed by Liberals and Progressives in 
Alberta asking for the release of "Baldy" Robb from the Prince Albert Peni- 
tentiary. There is no doubt that if the Liberals had remained in power 
this notorious election crook would have to-day been at liberty. 

PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO CAST YOUR BALLOT WITHOUT 
HAVING IT STOLEN AND COUNTED AGAINST YOUR CHOICE OF 
CANDIDATE. 

Issued by 

THE PUBLICITY COMMITTEE OF THE 
LIBERAL-CONSERVATIVE PARTY 
August, 1926 



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